Vincent Gray campaign aide Thomas Gore pleads guilty to election violations

Vincent Gray campaign aide Thomas Gore pleads guilty to election violations

By Del Quentin Wilber, Washington Post, Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 1:47 PM

A key finance official on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign admitted in federal court Tuesday that he helped to secretly finance the campaign of a minor candidate to bolster his boss’s prospects and then destroyed a ledger detailing the payoffs.

Thomas W. Gore pleaded guilty to three D.C. election law misdemeanors and a federal charge of obstruction of justice, and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their wide of Gray’s mayoral campaign.

Gore, a longtime confidant of Gray, is the first person to admit wrongdoing in the ongoing federal investigation, and he faces 12 to 18 months in prison under sentencing guidelines. No sentencing date has been set, and depending on Gore’s cooperation, prosecutors might seek to further reduce his sentence.

Wearing a dark suit and tie, the 56-year-old Gore was subdued during a lengthy hearing, answering, “Yes, your honor” and “I understand” to questions posed by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

“How do you plead?” the judge asked at the end of the 90-minute hearing.

“Guilty,” Gore replied.

Although federal prosecutors did not name Gray (D) or his campaign in court records, Kollar-Kotelly pointedly asked Gore to identify what was described in the plea documents as “Candidate A” and “Campaign A.” Hesitating, Gore finally said, “the campaign for Vincent Gray.”

Surrounded by friends and family as he left the District’s federal court, Gore declined to comment. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said Gore “pleaded guilty because he wanted to accept responsibility for his role in this endeavor and he thought it was the right thing to do. He wanted to acknowledge his missteps.” Cooke added that he expected others to be charged in the investigation.

A friend of the mayor’s for two decades, Gore was treasurer of Gray’s 2004 D.C. Council run and his successful bid two years later to become the body’s chairman. As assistant treasurer of Gray’s mayoral campaign, he handled the day-to-day finances, Justice Department prosecutors said.

To enhance Gray’s chances during the Democratic primary, Gore and others on the campaign began scheming as early as June 2010 to keep minor candidate Sulaimon Brown in the race so he could continue to assail incumbent mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on the campaign trail. Their solution, prosecutors said, was to funnel “excessive or unattributed” campaign cash to Brown through money orders.

In June and July of that year, Gore used excess campaign funds to purchase $660 in money orders from stores near the campaign’s headquarters. He then gave the money orders to a member of the campaign who is identified only in court papers as “Person A.” However, people familiar with the investigation but not allowed to speak publicly said that person was Howard L. Brooks, a consultant who was paid $44,000 by the Gray campaign. Brooks, who was also a longtime golfing buddy of Gore, has not been charged.

To disguise where the money originated, Person A signed the names of family members on four of the money orders and had a relative sign the name of a friend on a fifth one. Person A then delivered the payments to Brown, who deposited them in his campaign bank account, prosecutors said.

Gray defeated Fenty in the primary and cruised to a general election victory in November. The Washington Post reported in March 2011 that Brown claimed to have received cash and money orders from the Gray campaign to stay in the race and disparage Fenty. In exchange, Brown claimed, he was given a $110,000 job in the Gray administration. Gray has denied Brown’s allegations, which sparked the federal probe that has since become an inquiry into alleged campaign-finance abuses.

After reading The Post story, which prosecutors referred to in court papers as “media reports,” Gore shredded a spiral-bound ledger that recorded the illicit payoffs, court records show.

He also admitted that he lied to federal investigators months later when he told them he had never kept a ledger and had not told anyone about the notebook. In fact, prosecutors said, he discussed the ledger and admitted destroying it in a conversation with Brooks.

Gore told the judge Tuesday that his comments about shredding the ledger were captured on “a wire.” At the time, Brooks was cooperating with federal authorities and wore a recording device to that meeting with Gore, according to people familiar with the probe.

Brooks could not be reached Tuesday, and his attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, declined to comment.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

Vincent Gray urged to look beyond Natwar Gandhi in CFO search

Posted at 10:56 AM ET, 05/22/2012

Vincent Gray urged to look beyond Natwar Gandhi in CFO search

By Mike DeBonis

Gandhi’s term expires in less than six weeks. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Come July 1, Natwar M. Gandhi’s second five-year term as the District’s chief financial officer will expire. In a high-stakes decision that’s mostly flown under the political radar, it falls to Mayor Vincent C. Gray(D) to reappoint Gandhi or find another candidate. A former D.C. Council member and a prominent civic activist are now urging him to open a nationwide search.

Bill Lightfoot and Marie Drissel have penned a letter asking Gray to consider other candidates for the CFO job. Lightfoot is a trial lawyer who served on the council from 1989 to 1997 and remains active in city politics; Drissel is a veteran Kalorama activist who led the recent opposition to Internet gambling legislation. They cite a series of well-publicized missteps under Gandhi’s watch, including the 2007 discovery of the $50 million Harriette Walters embezzlement scheme, in justifying a broader search.

“Taking into account the fiscal and economic challenges facing the CFO’s office, as well as several troubling cases of fraud and theft of public monies, we urge you to launch a national search for a CFO (which should include Dr. Gandhi) and hire the best possible candidate to steward the District’s finances,” Lightfoot and Drissel write.

Gray has thus far demurred on questions about Gandhi’s tenure, promising to address the matter after the D.C. Council passes the city budget for 2013. An initial budget vote happened last week; a final vote will take place early next month. Gray has generally had good relations with Gandhi dating back to his four years as council chairman, though the two recently clashed over the accuracy of Gandhi’s revenue estimates.

With less than six weeks remaining in Gandhi’s term, it is nearly impossible that a thorough search could be completed before it expires. Under city law, a CFO “may continue to serve beyond his term until a successor takes office.” But it’s unclear whether Gandhi — first appointed to fill out the remainder of resignee Valerie Holt’s term — would agree to remain if Gray decided to undertake a search that would be interpreted as a vote of no confidence.

Spokesmen for Gandhi and Gray both declined to comment on the letter. In recent weeks, the Washington Post editorial board and Washington Harry Jaffe have written in support of Gandhi; he also retains powerful friends on the council and on Capitol Hill.

The CFO’s office was established in the wake of the 1995 federal takeover of the District government and operates almost as a fourth branch of government. While the CFO is selected by the mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council, he or she cannot be fired except for cause. The office retains near total control over the city’s financial matters, including tax collection, revenue and spending estimation, borrowing, lottery sales and more.

The letter in full:

Mayor Gray,

On June 30th, the job of the District’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) will come up for renewal. Our next CFO will hold this five-year position until 2017. Taking into account the fiscal and economic challenges facing the CFO’s office, as well as several troubling cases of fraud and theft of public monies, we urge you to launch a national search for a CFO (which should include Dr. Gandhi) and hire the best possible candidate to steward the District’s finances.

Largely through the legacy of the Control Board and Congress, our CFO is, quite literally, in charge of all the District’s financial operations — from the Office of Tax and Revenue to the Treasury to all D.C. agency finances. The CFO writes the city’s fiscal analyses, estimates our projected revenues, and serves as our financial liaison to Congress, Wall Street, and the federal government. In addition, the CFO oversees D.C. Lottery, including its staff, marketing, and operations. Any office with this level of financial power will undoubtedly attract those who wish to take advantage for personal gain. The CFO’s office experienced financial scandals, theft, and contracting improprieties, including:

Former CFO General Counsel Saamir Kaiser steals approximately $250,000 from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.

Prior to the theft, a background check revealed that Kaiser was not a lawyer, despite having been hired as counsel. Regardless, he was retained in the CFO’s office, allowing him access to the funds he ultimately stole.

Despite paying millions, the District still does not have an integrated, computerized tax system.

The $67 million Integrated Tax System that the CFO hired Accenture LLC to develop and implement, ultimately cost us $140 million and had to be scrapped altogether. D.C. still lacks an integrated, computerized tax system. The real property system was installed in 1992, is piecemeal, flawed and should have been competitively bid years ago prior to the Harriette Walters theft.

The D.C. Real Property Administration office is victim to the largest theft of public monies in U.S. history.

Harriette Walters stole at least $50 million from the Real Property Tax Administration (where she worked as a manager) by taking advantage of the office’s blind spots and lack of oversight, especially the lack of an integrated computerized system. Not long after, tax office clerk [Mary Ayers-Zander] stole another $414,000. To date, it remains unclear whether proper financial security measures have been implemented.

DC loses $100 million by failing to collect recordation taxes.

In 2007, the CFO’s office suspended the collection of recordation taxes (taxes resulting from the refinancing of commercial properties) without public notice or consultation. This unilateral action continues to cost the District valuable funds.

Geneva Capital loses D.C. investment funds.

In 2003, Geneva Capital lost over $21 million in funds earmarked for the D.C. Charter School Credit Enhancement Fund. The CFO’s office hired Geneva, despite being warned by authorities that it had no operating history and planned to use our funds to buy a company the SEC identified as “wracked by fraud.”

Fake D.C. Lottery tickets are printed and cashed in a fraud scheme.

In 2006, the D.C. Lottery became the only U.S. lottery system to have its system breached. Persons (possibly even Lottery employees) printed fake lottery tickets and cashed them ($85,000 in a single day). No one was ever caught or prosecuted.

D.C. Lottery contracting procedures lack transparency.

Two botched contracting rounds for the lottery contract (worth an estimated $120 million) have raised significant questions about how our lottery is operated. Our Inspector General concluded that one bidder was improperly denied the award, while another was awarded the contract despite providing false and misleading assertions.

Jeff Thompson wastes millions of our healthcare dollars.

Despite audits showing oversight and management deficiencies that cost D.C. [millions] of dollars, Jeff Thompson was repeatedly awarded [Medicaid managed-care] contracts. Until the FBI raided his home and office while investigating Thompson for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws, Thompson headed the D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a $355 million per year program that provides health care to low-income residents.

Taken altogether, these events have cost the District at least $300 million and much more in terms of our reputation and image as a city.

Dr. Natwar Gandhi has served as Deputy CFO for 3 years, CFO for 12 years, and has been vital to turning around our finances and hastening our fiscal growth. However, as we step into this 21st century, we must have the security measures, fiscal oversight, and technical systems that will preserve and protect our funds for our citizens today and in the future. We must bar the door to fraud and misuse of public funds for good. We urge you and the City Council to use the regulatory provisions that will allow Dr. Gandhi to stay in place while we undertake a national CFO search to fill this most critical financial position for our city.

Marie Drissel

William Lightfoot

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

Thomas Gore, Vincent Gray campaign aide, charged in ongoing federal probe

Thomas Gore, Vincent Gray campaign aide, charged in ongoing federal probe

By Nikita Stewart and Del Quentin Wilber, Published, Washington Post: May 21

A close friend of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s was charged Monday with destroying records and making illegal campaign contributions, becoming the first person incriminated in a wide-ranging federal investigation of Gray’s 2010 campaign.

The charges involve minor D.C. election law violations, but the accusations are likely to increase scrutiny of Gray’s election efforts and his term as mayor. The allegations first surfaced in March 2011, just months into Gray’s term, and have dogged him and the city since.

Reached in Las Vegas, where he is working to attract business to the District, Gray declined to comment. His office referred all calls to the mayor’s criminal defense lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, who said: “It’s a pending investigation. I don’t have any comment.”

The allegations involve one of Gray’s longtime friends and associates, Thomas W. Gore, who acted as the 2010 campaign’s assistant treasurer.

Monday’s charges came in a “criminal information,” which can be filed only with the defendant’s consent and signals a plea deal is near. Gore is expected to appear in the District’s federal court Tuesday at a “plea agreement hearing,” according to the court’s Web site. His attorney said Gore is cooperating in the criminal investigation.

Gore, 56, is accused by federal prosecutors of providing a rival candidate $535 in illegal campaign contributions in June or July of 2010 and then destroying a spiral-bound notebook that documented the payoffs. The donations were made through money orders “in the name of another person,” prosecutors said.

Court papers allege that Gore got rid of the notebook “on or about” the day The Washington Post published an article saying that minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown claimed that he had received money orders from Gray’s campaign in exchange for attacks against incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Gray later defeated Fenty in the tightly contested Democratic primary and coasted to a general-election victory.

Gore has been charged with three D.C. election law misdemeanors and one federal charge of destroying records.

Although he could face up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge and a maximum penalty of six months in jail on each of the D.C. offenses, Gore is likely to serve far less prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., declined to say whether his client intended to plead guilty but said, “We’re answering questions. We’re participating in a cooperative fashion. That’s all we can do.”

Gore, who did not return calls for comment, has been a friend of Gray’s for two decades and served as the treasurer of his 2004 run for a seat on the D.C. Council and his successful 2006 campaign to become the body’s chairman. In the 2010 mayoral race, he played a less prominent role because Gray and others were concerned about the perception of a conflict of interest — Gore is the former president and executive director of a nonprofit group that has received city assistance in the past.

Although Gore did not hold the title of campaign treasurer — that job belonged to one of Gray’s neighbors — he acted in that capacity and kept a tight grip on its purse strings, campaign workers have said.

On Monday morning, Gore attended a meeting of advocates working on youth-employment issues but left the meeting early, said Lori Kaplan, executive director of the Latin American Youth Center and a longtime friend.

Gore, a native Washingtonian, has been active in a consortium of youth advocates and has worked on issues involving child welfare, juvenile justice and foster care, Kaplan said.

“He has years of history doing youth and family work in this town,” Kaplan said. “These are not glamorous jobs. He’s just been really committed to this work.”

Eugene Kinlow Sr., a longtime D.C. community activist, said the charges against Gore stung because his friend has been “a pillar of the community.”

“He’s just the greatest guy,” Kinlow said. “That’s his heart. The community. . . . I know he was trying to help the mayor, but like they say, no good deed goes unpunished.”

The charges drew muted reaction at the John A. Wilson Building, in part because federal authorities have subpoenaed a number of D.C. Council offices for records related to a broadening campaign-finance investigation. But council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) called the allegations “very disturbing,” and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the obstruction charge was “very serious.”

Cheh, who supported Gray’s campaign and teaches criminal law at the George Washington University law school, said the charges may signal that authorities are chasing “somebody more important” than Gore.

“Whether it’s other campaign officials, whether it goes up all the way to the mayor, I don’t know. But I do know that it’s a very significant event in the investigation,” she added.

Former federal prosecutors said it was too early to say where the investigation might be headed. But they noted that the charges are a significant milestone because they represent the first public indication that federal authorities are serious about the allegations that surfaced in March 2011 when Brown, the former candidate, told The Post that he accepted money orders and cash from the Gray campaign for attacks against Fenty. In exchange, he claimed to have been given a $110,000 job in the Gray administration. Gray countered that he never asked Brown to attack Fenty, although he acknowledged that Brown was promised a job interview.

Although court papers identified the person who received Gore’s money orders only as ”Candidate B,” sources familiar with the investigation said the recipient was Brown.

Last year, Brown alleged that the payments were made by Lorraine A. Green, the campaign’s chairwoman, and by Howard Brooks, a campaign staffer.

The contributions were made in the names of Brooks’s son, cousin-in-law and his son’s girlfriend. Both the son’s girlfriend and the cousin told The Post that they did not know Brown and did not make the contributions. Brooks’s son, Peyton, received immunity early in the investigation.

Thomas C. Green, an attorney for Lorraine Green, said, “My client has cooperated completely with the investigation, which I believe to be at an end so far as it involves her.” Glenn Ivey, an attorney for Brooks, declined to comment.

That investigation sparked by Brown’s disclosure has since broadened into an inquiry of campaign finance and ties linking a prominent D.C. contractor to local political leaders.

In March, federal agents raided the home and offices of that contractor, Jeffrey Thompson, on the same day they searched the home and office of a public relations executive involved in the Gray election effort. Former Gray campaign workers and volunteers have also been questioned by federal authorities about an off-the-books “shadow campaign” that focused on getting out the vote.

Staff writers Tim Craig, Mike DeBonis and Danielle Douglas contributed to this report. Douglas reported from Las Vegas.

Marion Barry hospitalized in Las Vegas, report says

Posted at 10:18 AM ET, 05/21/2012

Marion Barry hospitalized in Las Vegas, report says

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) suffered a blood clot while traveling to Las Vegas for an annual retail convention, according to tweets on his official account Sunday night.

”Got a blood clot while waiting on plane in Memphis,” said a tweet posted shortly before 8 p.m. Eastern time. “Taking blood thiner. I thank God it was caught.”

Neither Barry, 76, nor his chief of staff immediately returned calls or e-mails Monday morning. WRC-TV reported Monday morning that Barry was taken to Summerlin Hospital Medical Center; it is unclear whether he remains admitted.

A subsequent tweet referenced a recent Barry controversy, when in a council hearing last month, he lamented a high number of immigrant nurses, particularly from the Philippines. But the tweet singled out the “kind professional Filipino staff” who treated him Sunday.

“I stand corrected; I truly didn’t mean 2 hurt or offend,” it read.

Barry during his recent re-election campaign (Linda Davidson – The Washington Post)

Barry is among more than a dozen D.C. elected officials and staff who traveled to Las Vegas for the annual retail convention hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The officials, who this year include Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), will attempt to woo big-name retailers to development sites across the city.

It’s not the first time Barry has been hospitalized while traveling on official business. He was famously admitted to a Los Angeles hospital in 1987 while on a Super Bowl trip. It was one of Barry’s most high-profile health issues in a public career full of them. Most recently, he underwent urinary tract surgery in January.

The 2001 death of a 28-year-old British woman on a long international flight brought great attention to the heightened risk of blood clots during air travel. A 2007 World Health Organization study found that the risk of clotting roughly doubles after four hours of travel.

Kenyan McDuffie wins Ward 5 seat on D.C. Council in race to replace Thomas

Kenyan McDuffie wins Ward 5 seat on D.C. Council in race to replace Thomas

By Tim Craig and Mike DeBonis, Published: May 15

Democrat Kenyan McDuffie easily defeated 10 other candidates Tuesday in a race to replace disgraced former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., picking up support in all precincts by pledging to restore integrity to the office and unite a ward divided over gentrification.

With all 18 precincts counted in Ward 5, McDuffie trounced his closest competitor by a 2-to-1 ratio, garnering almost 45 percent of the vote in unofficial returns. He will be sworn in after results are certified on May 30.

After declaring victory shortly after 10 p.m., McDuffie said District residents can look forward to “a new, fresh, independent, honest broker on the council.”

“It’s a mandate — people want ethical, honest leadership,” said McDuffie, 36, a onetime letter carrier who became a Justice Department attorney. “They want someone who is going to represent everyone in the ward.”

The contest, viewed as a breakthrough for a new generation of young District political leadership, became a referendum on who could best lead a rapidly changing ward trying to balance its middle-class roots with an influx of new residents.

For all but eight of the past 25 years, the politically active ward had been represented by Thomas or his father, Harry Thomas Sr., a political patriarch who died in 1999.

The son, once viewed as a rising star in District politics, was forced to step down in January after admitting that he stole more than $350,000 from the city. Early this month, a federal judge sentenced Thomas to 38 months in prison.

The scandal weighed heavily on the minds of voters, who said they were eager to move past what they consider an embarrassing mark for the ward.

“I’m trying to make more of an effort to be involved and know what’s going on,” Marybeth Grannis, 38, a nurse, said after she cast her ballot for McDuffie at Dunbar High School, in Truxton Circle in Northwest Washington.

Nine Democrats, one Republican and one independent, all African Americans, appeared on Tuesday’s ballot, but the race largely came down to McDuffie, Delano Hunter and Frank Wilds. Hunter trailed McDuffie with 20 percent of the vote. Wilds was third with 15 percent.

Ward 5 includes much of Northeast, including middle-class neighborhoods such as Michigan Park, Lamond-Riggs, Brookland and Brentwood, and part of the increasingly pricey U Street corridor, including Eckington. The ward is predominantly African American, although its white population has doubled in recent years to 16 percent.

During his campaign, McDuffie quickly cobbled together a broad coalition of progressives, environmentalists, union leaders and gay rights activists, among others.

McDuffie racked up overwhelming margins in several Ward 5 neighborhoods that have undergone demographic changes, including Bloomingdale and Truxton Circle. But McDuffie also carried several more socially moderate precincts in the northern part of the ward that observers had predicted as Hunter or Wilds strongholds.

Though McDuffie most recently worked for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) as a public safety adviser after he left the Justice Department in 2010, both the mayor and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) stayed out of the contest.

Bryan Weaver, a progressive activist who is heading up a petition drive to ban corporate contributions to city political candidates, said McDuffie’s victory represents “a new era in District politics.”

“You have younger folks coming forward, and not from anyone’s political machine,” said Weaver, a former Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner. “It’s a fresh start.”

Despite receiving broad support from liberal and good-government activists, McDuffie has resisted embracing the label “progressive” amid an ongoing debate about what the term means in modern District politics.

“If people want to call me progressive, it’s up to them to do it,” said McDuffie, who will be up for reelection in 2014. “But I do like to think of myself as forward-thinking.”

In addition to McDuffie, Wilds, Magnus and Hunter, Democrats Shelly Gardner, Kathy Henderson, Drew Hubbard, Ruth E. Marshall and Rae Zapata competed in the contest. Tim Day, the accountant who first raised questions about Thomas’s theft in 2010, ran as a Republican. John C. Cheeks ran as an independent. Day finished fourth with 5 percent of the vote.

The race — which drew nearly 10,000 votes — largely centered around efforts by McDuffie and Hunter, 28, to break into District politics in the face of a strong campaign by Wilds, a 67-year-old businessman who has been involved in Ward 5 politics for decades.

McDuffie worked as letter carrier while attending the University of Maryland School of Law in the early 1990s. After graduating, he went to work in Prince George’s County, first as a law clerk and then as an assistant state’s attorney. From 2008 to 2010, he was a trial attorney for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, according to his résumé.

Despite his past service in government, McDuffie positioned himself as an outsider with the integrity to again make residents proud of their representative.

“I wanted someone young who I felt would be energetic, a family man,” said Joyce B. Dixon, 70, who voted for McDuffie in Michigan Park, in the northern part of the ward, after deciding he was “not shady.”

Hunter, a community organizer, began building a strong network of support in the ward through his self-described effort to emulate former mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s (D) passion for retail politics. He and McDuffie challenged Thomas unsuccessfully in 2010. In that campaign, Hunter struggled to clarify his opposition to same-sex marriage, which he has since dropped.

“I wanted someone who could clean up and get all the hoodlums off the streets and from in front of my house,” said Janie Brown, 68, who voted for Hunter at McKinley Technology High School in Eckington.

Hunter would have been the youngest person ever elected to the D.C. Council. Michael Clark, 26, said he voted for Hunter because he was “transparent and passionate” and “has energy.”

“There are a lot of new, younger voters in Ward 5, and we should have a representative who speaks to the things closest to us,” said Clark, a property manager who lives in Eckington.

Hunter was sidetracked during the campaign by reports that he has been sued three times since 2010 over unpaid rent and once over credit card debt.

Hunter said he got in financial trouble during his 2010 campaign but has learned from his mistake.

Still, the controversy unnerved some voters.

“I definitely don’t want Delano Hunter,” said Ilyssa Parker, who works for a nonprofit organization. “I question his integrity, and the gay-marriage thing, his finances. If you can’t do your own finances, how can you run the city’s finances?”

Wilds, the businessman and former advisory neighborhood commissioner, sought to counteract his opponents’ relative youthfulness by stressing his roots in the community and business experience.

“We go back years,” said Catherine Kelly, 81, adding that she used to cut Wilds’s hair. “I don’t know the other candidates.”

Some Wilds supporters also raised concerns that McDuffie was too connected to self-described progressive leaders from outside the ward, including Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who was the only council member to officially endorse a candidate.

Yet, even some seniors felt that it was time for a more youthful face on the council.

“I thought it was time to shift to a new generation,” said Rohulamin Quander, 68, a retired administrative law judge who walked to Burroughs Elementary School in Brookland to vote for McDuffie.

“He knows we’ll be watching,” added his wife, Carmen Torruella-Quander, 66.

Vincent Gray: Riders need fairness from taxi industry

Posted at 02:37 PM ET, 05/08/2012

Vincent Gray: Riders need fairness from taxi industry

By Nikita Stewart, Washington Post

Mayor Vincent C. Gray said his administration is looking at increasing the number of inspectors to monitor numerous violations by taxi drivers against riders at night at Union Station, which were recently detailed in a Washington Post story.

(Rachel Karas – The Washington Post)In an interview Tuesday, Gray (D) said his administration has worked hard on compromises to help taxi drivers by lifting the $19 cap on fares, instituting a gas surcharge and recently increasing the mileage rate.

“We’re trying to be fair to the industry but also want to be fair to customers,” he said.

The Washington Post found that drivers, who were not under the watch of inspectors, were picking and choosing passengers and requiring strangers to pile into one cab — all violations.

Gray said taxi cab commissioner Ron Linton has already proposed increasing the number of hack inspectors. Meanwhile, the commission is also working on long-term changes, such as uniformity in color of the cabs and the installation of credit card machines in taxis.

Ward 5 candidates’ views on transportation, safety, development

Ward 5 candidates’ views on transportation, safety, development

By Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: May 12

When voters in Northeast Washington go to the polls Tuesday to elect a council member to replace disgraced Harry Thomas Jr., they won’t just be electing a new representative for Ward 5.

They will also be selecting the potential swing vote on the 13-member council, presenting voters with outsize influence in determining future policies that could shape the city for a generation.

With the D.C. Council increasingly fractured by personal rivalries and differences on policy, many council members and Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) will be looking to the new colleague as a potential tie-breaking vote. The winner will be sworn in within days of the election and casting votes, including on the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Although 11 candidates are in the race, political strategists and Ward 5 observers believe that Kenyan McDuffie, 36, Frank Wilds, 67, and Delano Hunter, 28, all of whom are Democrats and have competed in past Ward 5elections, are best positioned to pull off a victory. But with turnout expected to be light, former council staffer Drew Hubbard, 34, a Democrat, and Republican Tim Day, 40, could also potentially claim victory.

In recent days, The Washington Post posed a series of questions to all of the competitive candidates to gauge their views on some issues of concern to voters citywide.

Transportation

Q: Would you support doubling the city’s $35 residential parking permit fee to encourage more residents to take public transportation and free up more parking in residential areas?

A: McDuffie, Wilds, Hunter, Hubbard and Day all oppose the idea.

Q: Do you agree with the city’s plan to build a 37-mile, $1 billion streetcar network? If so, how would you pay for it?

A: Day wants the streetcar plan “scrapped” until a new, comprehensive transportation plan for the city is developed. McDuffie and Hubbard support streetcars but wouldn’t make it a priority until other programs, such as affordable housing, are better funded.

Wilds would support streetcars only if all the money comes from the federal government or through a regional partnership with Maryland and Virginia. Hunter said the streetcars are a “good investment” and require continued funding.

Q: Do you support continued taxpayer investment to expand the number of Capital Bikeshare stations?

A: Hunter said yes. McDuffie and Hubbard said only after other spending priorities, such as affordable housing, are met. Wilds said no because he worries that stations are “cluttering up sidewalks.”

Day said he would not support additional funding until a broader transportation vision for the District was in place. “Adding bike share stations to certain parts of Ward 5 is a moot point because they are mostly seniors and not going to ride them,” Day said.

Public safety

Q: Would you vote to give D.C. police officers, who have not had a new contract since 2007, a pay raise if it resulted in cuts to other public-safety programs?

A: Day said yes. Hunter, Hubbard and McDuffie said they think there may be money in the budget to give the raises without making other cuts to public safety. Wilds said he would give police officers a raise only if it is accompanied by raises for teachers and firefighters.

Q: Should Internet gambling be legalized in the District?

A: Hunter, Hubbard, McDuffie and Wilds said they are not opposed to the concept, but would first want broad vetting from the community. Day is opposed.

Q: Should criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana be reduced and made similar to those in surrounding states?

A: Wilds, Hunter and Hubbard said yes. Day said no. McDuffie responded that he first wants to hear the community’s views. “I don’t think the council needs to assume that they know best what people want in terms of marijuana, particularly people who live next to open-air drug markets,” McDuffie said.

Development

Q: Is new development good or bad for Ward 5?

A: All the candidates said it’s good for Ward 5, except Day, who worried that the area could become too much like Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. McDuffie also stressed that development should be “community-oriented, responsible and sustainable.”

Q: With renewed talk of raising the city’s 130-foot building height limit, is there any part of Ward 5 where taller buildings might be appropriate?

A: McDuffie, Day, Hunter and Hubbard all oppose taller buildings in Ward 5. Wilds would support taller buildings along New York Avenue NE as part of a refurbished “hotel zone.”

Q: If you could attract one business to the ward, what would it be, and where would you put it?

A: Wilds said a District government agency for Rhode Island Avenue NE. Hubbard said a Kinko’s or coffee shop at Rhode Island Avenue NE. Hunter said a large gym, perhaps at the Shops at Dakota Crossing development in Fort Lincoln. McDuffie said “something with job training,” but that he wasn’t sure. Day, an accountant, said an accounting firm.

Q: Are big-box stores good or bad for Ward 5?

A: All the candidates said they were good if they were well planned and included community benefits. “My concern is we just don’t have copies of what is in the suburbs,” Hunter said.

Social services

Q: Do you support spending city money to extend health insurance to undocumented immigrants?

A: Hubbard, Hunter, McDuffie and Day said yes. Wilds said no, adding, “we can’t supplement everybody.”

Q: Do you think welfare benefits should be cut off after five years, as is called for under the 1996 federal welfare reform law?

A: All candidates say they would support time limits, but they are not currently convinced that the appropriate job training and life-skills training is in place to help recipients make the transition. “We can’t say, ‘Here you go’ for five years, and then say, ‘Oh well, good-bye, we don’t care about you anymore,’ ” Day said.

Q: Should the District’s summer-jobs program for teenagers be means-tested to free up more space for youths from low-income families?

A: Hunter, Wilds, Hubbard and Day said no. McDuffie said yes.

Taxes

Q: Currently, residents who earn between $40,000 and $350,000 a year pay an 8.5 percent rate while residents who earn more than $350,000 pay an 8.95 percent rate. What do you think the highest tax rate should be and at what income level?

A: McDuffie, Day, Hubbard and Hunter would keep the current rates, though Hubbard eventually wants a “more progressive” structure. Wilds wants to cut the city’s 6 percent rate for residents who make less than $40,000 while raising taxes on those who make more than $300,000. “The rich should pay more,” he said.

Schools

Q: Should at least some charter schools in Ward 5 have a neighborhood admissions preference so that some residents near those schools can be assured seats?

A: McDuffie and Hunter said no, fearing it could undercut the flexibility those schools need to be successful. Day said yes. Hubbard said he believes “there should be some threshold” where charter schools could become neighborhood schools. Wilds appeared unfamiliar with the topic, saying he would do “what’s best for the community.”

Q: Should 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to test score growth, as is currently the case?

A: All the candidates said no, raising concerns that such an evaluation fails to adequately capture teachers’ true classroom performance. “Sometimes, test scores are just reflective of the school and the community the school is located in,” Hunter said.

Staff writers Mike DeBonis and Bill Turque contributed to this report.

D.C. budget surprises likely to persist

Posted at 06:57 PM ET, 05/08/2012

D.C. budget surprises likely to persist

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Brown says he’ll get the final budget deal out as soon as possible, but not necessarily 24 hours ahead of a vote. (Matt McClain – FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Tomorrow, members of the D.C. Council will start completing their annual budget ritual, gathering at 1 p.m. around a big table in a smallish John A. Wilson Building conference room to hash out which priorities will get funded and which ones will not.

It’s a quasi-transparent process. The bull sessions are open to members of the media and will be televised on Channel 13. Things get murkier when the meetings end, and it’s left to Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) and staff to meld the discussions into a cohesive, solvent budget that accommodates his colleagues’ desires.

The end product will, if history is any guide, be delivered to council members and their staffs sometime in the wee hours before the first budget vote next Tuesday.

That practice has been problematic in the past, giving members — not to mention the public — a few scant hours to look over the final budget deal before voting. Memorably, in 2010, a late decision to cut streetcar funding turned into a big political headache for then-Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D).

This year, the final deal will likely address hot issues as alcohol taxes, extended bar hours and health care funding.

One activist group is renewing its call for more transparency in the process — that is, allowing more time for the public to review what will be voted on. The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute asked Brown in a letter delivered Monday that he release copies of the budget legislation at least 24 hours before a vote.

In the letter, DCFPI’s Elissa Silverman acknowledged progress last year under Brown in getting budget information more quickly. But 24 hours of advance time would be a much bigger improvement.

In an interview Tuesday evening, Brown said he would get the budget dealings out as soon as possible, but he said he “can’t fully commit” to a 24-hour deadline when the process is certain to involve eleventh-hour dealmaking.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get that to the public in 24 hours, but I can’t make that strong commitment if we’re still going to be negotiating to the last minute,” Brown said. “It’s very difficult to do, especially when we’re trying to squeeze every penny we can for the people who need it the most.”

DC Named the Worst Environment for Small Business

10 Worst Tax States for Small Business
Looking for a state to start a business? The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council releases its business tax index for 2012

Small business owners who just filed their taxes are heaving a sigh of relief that the season is over and their returns are in. That leaves time for the bigger questions, of course: What’s next year going to be like? Am I in a good place? How can I pay lower taxes in the future?

To answer those questions, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council (SBE) released its Business Tax Index on April 16, just one day ahead of the 2011 federal tax-filing deadline. The SBE’s index ranks all 50 U.S. states as well as Washington from best to worst in terms of each tax system’s cost on entrepreneurship and small business. The index pulls together 18 different tax measures, combining them into a tax score that allows for a state-by-state comparison.

“All taxes matter, whether imposed at the federal, state or local level of government,” writes chief economist Raymond Keating in his introduction to the SBE Business Tax Index 2012 report. “They matter to consumers, entrepreneurs, investors and businesses. They matter in terms of a state’s competitiveness. And they matter when it comes to economic growth and job creation.”

The following 10 states, in reverse order, ranked lowest on SBE’s list of 18 taxes, including personal income, individual capital gains tax rate, corporate income, corporate capital gains, added income tax on S-corporations, property taxes, unemployment taxes and sales taxes. (Keating notes that the personal income tax influences business “far more than generally assumed” because more than 92% of businesses file taxes as individuals, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S-corps, and therefore pay personal income taxes rather than corporate income taxes.)

Tax rates of all 50 states and the District of Columbia are ranked from 1 to 51, 1 being the lowest, or best, rates. “This annual report details just how borderline impossible it is to start a new business in our state,” complained entrepreneur Kenneth Wisnefski after reading the SBE report. And yes, Wisnefski’s home state of New Jersey is on the list of 10 worst states for small business taxes.

Read the Top 10 Worst Tax States for Retirees at AdvisorOne.

10. CONNECTICUT
State Tax Index Overall Score: 49.55
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 6.7% (34th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 9.0% (44th, tied with New Jersey and Rhode Island)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 9% (43rd, tied with New Jersey and Rhode Island)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 4.61% (46th)

9. HAWAII
State Tax Index Overall Score: 49.58
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 11% (51st)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 4% (7th)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 6.4% (21st)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 2.4% (10th)

8. VERMONT
State Tax Index Overall Score: 52.05
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 8.95% (46th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 8.5% (38th, tied with Indiana and New Hampshire)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 8.5% (37th, tied with Indiana and New Hampshire)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 5.29% (49th)

7. CALIFORNIA
State Tax Index Overall Score: 52.22
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 10.3%(50th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 8.84% (42nd)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 8.84% (41st)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 3.53% (32nd)

6. MAINE
State Tax Index Overall Score: 52.47
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 8.5% (44th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 8.93% (43rd)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 8.93% (42nd)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 4.55% (44th)

5. IOWA
State Tax Index Overall Score: 53.41
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 5.84% (26th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 9.9% (49th)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 9.9% (49th)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 3.51% (30th)

4. NEW YORK
State Tax Index Overall Score: 54.13
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 8.82 (45th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 8.31% (37th)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 8.31% (36th)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 4.56% (45th)

3. NEW JERSEY
State Tax Index Overall Score: 54.73
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 8.97% (46th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 9.0% (44th, tied with Connecticut and Rhode Island)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 9.0% (43rd, tied with Connecticut and Rhode Island)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 5.36% (50th)

2. MINNESOTA
State Tax Index Overall Score: 55.08
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 7.85% (43rd)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 9.8% (48th)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 9.8% (48th)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 3.25% (25th)

1. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
State Tax Index Overall Score: 63.00
Top Personal Income Tax Rate: 8.95% (46th)
Top Corporate Capital Gains Tax Rate: 9.98% (50th)
Top Corporate Income Tax Rate: 9.98% (50th)
State and Local Property Taxes as a Share of Personal Income: 4.46% (43rd)

Catania defends health care for illegal immigrants as Gray signals opposition

Catania defends health care for illegal immigrants as Gray signals opposition

May 05, 2012 — 7:43 PM, Alan Blinder, Examiner Staff Writer

A D.C. councilman’s plan to allocate an extra $20 million to health care for illegal immigrants — a move that defied Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2013 budget proposal — has drawn sharp criticism from the mayor’s office and set the stage for what could become a pitched battle between the city’s legislative and executive branches.

"We are seriously worried that the [at-large Councilman David] Catania plan takes critical money from one program and shuffles it to another program," Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro told The Washington Examiner. "He hasn’t found any new money. He’s just creating holes in other places."

In an internal memorandum obtained by The Examiner, city officials said Catania’s plan "selectively grabs ‘savings’ from line items in the Department of Health Care Finance’s budget."

But Catania said that wasn’t true.

"We have enough resources to provide decent health care to everyone who lives here," Catania said. "I believe very strongly that we ought not to treat immigrants differently than other residents of our city."

On Thursday, the council’s health committee, which Catania chairs, announced it had found enough money to provide hospital care to participants in the DC Healthcare Alliance, a city health insurance offering that mostly caters to illegal immigrants who aren’t eligible to participate in federal programs.

The panel said it balanced the program’s new budget by, in part, controlling personnel costs and correcting estimates for enrollment.

Confronted with another budget shortfall, Gray had proposed slashing the program’s funding and transferring more of the costs of caring for illegal immigrants to the federal government. But that plan, which Gray unveiled in March, drew quick criticism from Catania, along with a vow to restore the dollars.

Even though the council came under harsh criticism last week for failing to approve a plan to pay District workers for furlough days they were forced to take in 2011, one union leader said the decision to move forward with the health care funding didn’t bother him.

"I’m never going to pit employees and their concerns against other legitimate concerns," said Geo Johnson, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ affiliate in the District. "I don’t advocate that at all."

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